Spicy & Tangy Kerala Fish Curry (Fish In Tamarind & Coconut Milk Sauce)

Spicy & Tangy Kerala Fish Curry (Fish In Tamarind & Coconut Milk Sauce)

Coming from a part of India teeming with fresh catch from the sea throughout the year, we were initially appalled at the lackluster selection of fresh seafood in our Texan city. Obviously it has something to do with the place being land-locked and the nearest fishing harbor being a few hundred miles from here. So whenever we do get good fish, I make it a point that it is well utilized.

I was  never a big fish buyer back home. That was mom’s domain. I could barely distinguish between 4 or 5 species. That should explain why I got Marlin steaks from the store with absolutely no idea what it would taste like. Straight away on opening the packet, I knew it was a fleshy, hearty fish. Such a fish required a little extra care and some careful preparation.

Fish Curry In Coconut Milk

I immediately remembered the fish curry at my hubby’s place made with ground shallots, ginger and garlic, spicy and tangy with red chilies and tamarind, and finished off with coconut milk to thicken the curry. The amount of coconut milk added is purely a matter of personal taste. At my in-laws’, the curry is bright red with just a small splash of coconut milk added towards the very end. I have also had this as a mild, yellowish curry, obviously the fish being cooked entirely in coconut milk.

Ingredients for Kerala Fish Curry In Coconut Milk

With Boy being fussy as it is, and anything red-colored eliciting a “It’s looks so spicy, mommy” comment from him, I decided to play it safe and use a lot of coconut milk in the curry. I also replaced the traditional Indian red shallots with a small red onion. This curry does not absolutely require tempering, but you can temper it with some mustard seeds and curry leaves. I also added finely chopped ginger and garlic, as I am a huge fan of garlic pieces in my fish curry. But one thing you must never omit or substitute for is tamarind. Tomatoes are just not gonna do it in this curry, it needs the tangy sweetness of the traditional tamarind, the backbone of a good south Indian fish curry.

Kerala Fish Curry In Coconut Milk

You will need:

For marinating the fish,

  • Fish – 1 lb, cut into small pieces
  • Turmeric powder – 1/4 tsp
  • Red chili powder – 1/2 tsp
  • Salt – 1/4 tsp

For the curry,

  • Oil – 2 tbsp
  • Red onion – 1 small, roughly chopped
  • Ginger – a 1″ piece
  • Garlic – 3-4 pods
  • Green chilies – 4
  • Red chili powder – 1 tbsp
  • Coriander powder – 1 tbsp
  • Turmeric powder – 1/2 tsp
  • Tamarind – a small lime-sized ball (or tamarind paste – 2 tsp)
  • Water – 1/2 cup
  • Coconut milk – 2 cups
  • Salt – to taste

For tempering,

  • Oil – 2 tsp
  • Mustard seeds – 1/2 tsp
  • Ginger – a small piece, julienned or finely chopped
  • Garlic – 1-2 pods, thinly sliced
  • Curry leaves – a few

How to:

  • Wash the fish pieces and marinate with the ingredients listed under “For marinating the fish”. Keep aside while the curry/sauce base is prepared.
  • Prep the following. Coarsely grind the onion, ginger, garlic and 2 green chilies. Make a paste of red chili, coriander and turmeric powders in 2 tbsp water. Soak the tamarind in 1/2 cup of hot water, extract the pulp when the water is comfortable enough to handle. Keep all these on hand before starting on the curry.
  • To prepare the curry, heat oil in a pan. Add the ground onion mixture and saute on medium heat till the raw smell goes and it turns a light golden color. Add the paste of masala powders and saute for 2 minutes. Add the strained tamarind pulp water and allow it to come to a boil.
  • Add the coconut milk and bring to a gentle boil. Now add the fish pieces, 2 chopped green chilies and salt and cook without covering the pan for a few minutes. Fish cooks extremely fast and is very delicate, so do not cover the pan or stir the curry.
  • Once the fish is cooked (it will be opaque and flaky), increase the heat and reduce the curry to the desired consistency. Coconut milk curry will further thicken upon standing, so remove it from the stove just short of your desired consistency.
  • In a small pan, heat the oil for tempering. Add mustard seeds and when they sputter, add the rest of the ingredients and fry till the ginger and garlic are lightly golden (but not burnt). Add this to the prepared curry and mix well. Allow the curry to rest for a while before serving, as this will help the flavors to develop beautifully.


  • Use a well-seasoned earthen pot to cook and serve fish curry in, as it really helps to develop the flavor and aroma.
  • You can use 2 cups of water to cook the fish and then finish the curry with a tiny splash of coconut milk. This way, the curry will be more red in color than one prepared fully with coconut milk. It will also be spicier, so use more water and less of coconut milk if you love a spicy fish curry.
  • In some regions, the tamarind is replaced with pieces of kudam-puli, the preserved dried fruits of Garcinia Cambogia, which imparts a distinct sour and smoky flavor to the fish curry.

Serve warm fish curry with steamed white rice or any Indian flat bread like appams, dosas, chapathis or rotis.

Fish In Spicy Tamarind & Coconut Milk Curry

Fish curry, especially one cooked with tamarind extract, is best when it has had time to rest and so it is always desirable to have some leftover curry to enjoy the next day.

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29 thoughts on “Spicy & Tangy Kerala Fish Curry (Fish In Tamarind & Coconut Milk Sauce)

  1. This looks real tempting, so very much like the fish curries in Goa with the coconut and all. Kerala is very much like Goa when it comes to the best of the best in the seafood department, and oh so fresh too! Yummmmm, you’ve got me salivating now for tonight’s fresh fish curry 🙂

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